Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Microbes’ Genomes Promise Insight into Oceans

14.08.2003

The world’s smallest photosynthetic organisms, microbes that can turn sunlight and carbon dioxide into living biomass, will be in the limelight next week. Three international teams of scientists, two funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF), will announce the genetic blueprints for four closely related forms of these organisms, which dominate the phytoplankton, the tiny floating plants of the oceans.

The work will be reported in the August 13 online issues of Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Much like the sequencing of the human genome, the sequencing of the genomes of three strains of Prochlorococcus and one of closely related Synechococcus should crack many mysteries about these organisms-and about phytoplankton in general.

A better understanding of phytoplankton, which play a critical role in the regulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide, will aid studies on global climate change. The metabolic machinery of these single-celled organisms could serve as a model for sustainable energy production, as they can turn sunlight into chemical energy, according to Gabrielle Rocap of the University of Washington, lead author of the Nature paper that reports the genomes of two strains of Prochlorococcus. "The four genomes that have been sequenced represent numerous strains that populate ocean waters and form the base of the food web," says Rocap. "A hundred of these organisms can fit end-to- end across the width of a human hair, but they grow in such abundance that, small as they are, at times they amount to more than 50 percent of the photosynthetic biomass of the oceans."

It behooves us "to understand exactly how, with roughly 2,000 genes, this tiny cell converts solar energy into living biomass-basic elements into life," said Sallie (Penny) Chisholm, a biological oceanographer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). "These cells are not just esoteric little creatures; they dominate the oceans. There are some 100 million Prochlorococcus cells per liter of seawater, and they are responsible for a significant fraction of global photosynthesis."

This research addresses in a concrete way major questions in biological oceanography at levels finer than the species level, says Phillip Taylor, director of NSF’s biological oceanography program, which co- funded the research. "The work shows there is a rich and fascinating diversity of physiological capacity and adaptation in the sea, and that this diversity is not always revealed just by looking in the microscope."

Adds Raymond Orbach, director of the office of science at the Department of Energy (DOE), which funded the research, "While many questions remain, it’s clear that Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus play a significant role in photosynthetic ocean carbon sequestration. Having the completed genome in hand gives us a first-albeit crude-’parts list’ to use in exploring the mechanisms for these and other critically important processes that could be directly relevant to this critical DOE mission."

In the same issue of Nature, a team led by Brian Palenik of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, part of the University of California at San Diego, will report the sequence of Synechococcus, a co- inhabitant of ocean waters with Prochlorococcus, that has a unique form of motility.

The Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus teams collaborated closely. "We learned a tremendous amount working together," said Palenik. "By coming at it from different perspectives, we were able to see common themes in how these organisms adapted to the open ocean."

A separate report, by a team led by Frederick Partensky, at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Station Biologique de Roscoff, describes the genome of a third strain of Prochlorococcus and will be published online August 13 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The work of all three teams "will allow us to better understand what differentiates the ecology of these closely related organisms through comparative genomics," said Chisholm.

Rocap and her colleagues present a kind of case study for how this might work. They report the genetic sequences for two different Prochlorococcus strains, then go on to compare them. The resulting analysis "reveals many of the genetic foundations for the observed differences in [the two strains’] physiologies and vertical niche partitioning," the authors report. The latter refers to each strain’s slightly different ecological niche-they thrive at different depths in the ocean’s surface waters.

Chisholm emphasizes that, "we still don’t know the functions of nearly half of these organisms’ genes. We’re excited about unveiling those functions-particularly for those genes that are unique to the different strains-because they’ll alert us to key factors important in regulating marine productivity [photosynthesis] and plankton diversity."

The idea, she says, "is to let the organisms tell us what dimensions of their environment are important in determining their distribution and abundance. This will become easier and easier as the genomes of additional strains are sequenced, and the functions of the genes are understood."

Concludes Rocap, "Right now, we don’t even know the range of diversity that exists. We’ve had just a glimpse of the different genome types that are out there."

This research was also sponsored by the Seaver Foundation, the Israel-US Binational Science Foundation, and FP5-Margenes.

Cheryl Dybas | NSF
Further information:
http://www.nsf.gov

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Climate Impact Research in Hannover: Small Plants against Large Waves
17.08.2018 | Leibniz Universität Hannover

nachricht First transcription atlas of all wheat genes expands prospects for research and cultivation
17.08.2018 | Leibniz-Institut für Pflanzengenetik und Kulturpflanzenforschung

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Color effects from transparent 3D-printed nanostructures

New design tool automatically creates nanostructure 3D-print templates for user-given colors
Scientists present work at prestigious SIGGRAPH conference

Most of the objects we see are colored by pigments, but using pigments has disadvantages: such colors can fade, industrial pigments are often toxic, and...

Im Focus: Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab

A new study sheds light on how ultralow frequency radio waves and plasmas interact

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles present new research on a curious cosmic phenomenon known as "whistlers" -- very low frequency packets...

Im Focus: New interactive machine learning tool makes car designs more aerodynamic

Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...

Im Focus: Robots as 'pump attendants': TU Graz develops robot-controlled rapid charging system for e-vehicles

Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.

Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....

Im Focus: The “TRiC” to folding actin

Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.

Actin is the most abundant protein in highly developed cells and has diverse functions in processes like cell stabilization, cell division and muscle...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

LaserForum 2018 deals with 3D production of components

17.08.2018 | Event News

Within reach of the Universe

08.08.2018 | Event News

A journey through the history of microscopy – new exhibition opens at the MDC

27.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Smallest transistor worldwide switches current with a single atom in solid electrolyte

17.08.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Robots as Tools and Partners in Rehabilitation

17.08.2018 | Information Technology

Climate Impact Research in Hannover: Small Plants against Large Waves

17.08.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>